The beauty of nature and adrenaline-pumping adventure – that’s the big draw to all-terrain vehicles. You can zoom through the trees and brush, racing your fellow ATVers and splattering through the mud.

Amidst the greenery, competition, fun and speed that come with an afternoon of ATVing, it may be easy to forget you’re operating a motor vehicle – not a toy – and that not following the rules or being careful can result in serious injury or even death.

“The vehicles weigh more than 700 pounds, have powerful engines and can reach speeds of 50 mph or more. Plus, they don’t have any seatbelts, safety cages or roll bars and have a high center of gravity – this means they can easily tip, throw off riders, or even roll over on top of riders,” said Geisinger orthopaedic surgeon Anthony J. Balsamo, MD. “If this happens, ATVs can cause serious injuries, including head injuries, broken collarbones, broken arms and legs – some can even lead to death.”

But it’s not just the design of ATVs that can result in tragedy.

“The way people use these vehicles is partly to blame for some of the serious injuries we see – speeding, not following safety rules, and other behaviors all increase the risk of an accident,” Dr. Balsamo said.

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSP), there are more than 700 deaths and 100,000 injuries each year involving ATVs.

However, this doesn’t mean you should give up riding ATVs – it simply means you should be diligent about riding safely. Here’s how.

Always wear a helmet


“Wearing a helmet riding an ATV is one of the single best ways to reduce the risk of a serious head injury,” Dr. Balsamo said.

The CPSC and the ATV Safety Institute both recommend you wear U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and/or the Snell Memorial Foundation (Snell) certified helmets – helmets that meet these standards will have a sticker on them confirming it.

Other protective gear you should wear includes goggles or a face shield, gloves, long pants and a long-sleeved shirt, shoulder pads, a chest protector, and over-the-ankle boots.

1. Never ride under the influence


Just like you should never drive a car while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, you should also never operate an ATV if you’re impaired.

“Not only is it illegal to operate an ATV under the influence, but it also significantly increases your risk of crashing and getting seriously hurt,” Dr. Balsamo said. “Alcohol and drugs lower your inhibitions and reaction time, making it incredibly dangerous to be driving an ATV.”

2. Don’t have more people on an ATV than it was designed to carry


Most ATVS sold today are single-rider ATVs – that means the driver should be the only person on it.

“Having an additional passenger on an ATV can inhibit the driver’s ability to safely control the vehicle and could cause it to roll over more easily or crash,” Dr. Balsamo said. Single-rider ATVs aren’t equipped with handholds or footrests for a passenger. Additionally, the driver needs to be able to shift their weight in all directions – a passenger can impede this.

3. Don’t allow children younger than 16 on adult ATVs

The CPSC reports that more than 90 percent of ATV-related injuries involving children can be attributed to a lack of developmental skills needed to safely maneuver adult ATVs, which are faster and more powerful.

“Children under the age of 16 ATVing should be on an age-appropriate youth model – these travel at lower speeds than adult models and are equipped with an adjustable speed limiter,” Dr. Balsamo said.

If you’re unsure if your ATV is safe for someone under the age of 16, check its label – all ATVs should have a label with the manufacturer’s recommended age for the model.

Children young that 6 years old should never be on an ATV, either as a driver or passenger.

4. Stay off paved roads


ATVs are designed to only be driven on off-road terrain – they’re difficult to control on paved roads and are at risk of colliding with other vehicles or overturning.

In general, you should follow speed restrictions, avoid remote areas without cellphone service, and have companion ATV riders with you. If you or a child are a first-time ATV rider, take a hands-on ATV safety course with a qualified instructor – this can teach you skills to handle multiple riding situations that can happen in off-road conditions.